|Text: John 20:19,20
It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Then Jesus came and stood among them. "Peace be with you," he said. After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord.
When you came into church this morning you passed from the verandah through the double doors at the back into the church building.
Were any of those doors locked? Except for those who were the first to arrive, those doors were open and you walked straight in, picking up your Bulletin, Hymn Book etc. as you made your way into the church. If the doors were locked and remained locked, of course, we wouldnít be sitting in the church right now. It happens every now and then that when people want to get into the church, they find that all the doors are locked and they have to go hunting for a key.
Why do we have so many locked doors? Because we are afraid.
I would dare say you locked up your house before you came here this morning. You locked it because you don't want someone else wandering in and sorting through your stuff, and taking what he or she wants.
I hope you locked your car out there in the council parking lot or out in the street. It would be a pity to go out after church and find your car is gone! We are advised to lock our cars even in our own driveways at home because thieves can be so bold as to take our cars from right under our noses.
People tell of the days when they would leave their houses unlocked without any fear of anyone entering illegally. Once churches were left unlocked so that anyone at any time could come in for a quiet time of meditation and prayer. That doesnít happen anymore because we are afraid.
The first disciples had locked all the doors "because
they were afraid of the Jewish authorities."
They hid behind locked doors -
for fear of what the authorities might do if they found them meeting in the name of Jesus;
for fear of being identified with the supposed criminal who had been violently executed a few days before;
For fear of being treated as Jesus was treated Ė being beaten and crucified for being a heretic or a traitor.
To keep the outside world out, they locked the doors.
But it made no difference. Jesus just walked right in. Even though the doors were locked he walked right in - he wouldn't be kept out. He walked right in and he said to them, "Peace be with you."
We know that peace and fear are the direct opposite of one another. We know the feeling of fear, thatís why we are so fanatical about locking everything. We know from experience that if we donít lock up others will come in uninvited and help themselves. We are so fearful that if we suspect that things arenít locked up we will turn the car around and go home again to double check. We donít have any peace of mind until we do that. Even then we donít have any real peace because the possibility that someone could break and enter is very real. As someone said to me recently, "We come home from holidays expecting to find that we have been broken into." Even when the doors are locked there is still no real peace. (While Iíve been talking about locked doors maybe some of you had a moment of panic as you tried to recall whether you had locked your house or your car before coming to church).
Jesus came among the fearful disciples and said, "Peace be with you". Peace is not so much a state of mind as a state of being. Peace is a gift. It is a gift from God. Peace is a calmness and quiet even in the midst of danger. Peace is not escape from danger but faces it and still feels at peace. Peace is the absence of fear. Often we witness this kind of peace when a Christian faces his/her last days. They have a peace that comes from knowing that Jesus is their saviour and he waits to welcome them to eternal life.
But peace is something that was not felt in that locked room. The women had seen the empty tomb and heard the angelís message, "He has risen from the dead". The women had run from the scene, both overjoyed and terrified. They found the disciples cowering behind locked doors. Peter and one of the other disciples had ventured out to see the tomb. The disciples were amazed at what Mary Magdalene had to tell them about the appearance of Jesus in the Garden near the tomb. But they continued to hide behind the safety and security of the locked upper room.
They were afraid before the announcement of the resurrection. They were still afraid after they had seen and heard the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead. In other words, it seems that not a great deal had changed because of the Easter news.
After church services ended last Sunday Ė Easter Sunday, what
did we do? Did the story of our Lord's resurrection change our lives in any way?
Or did we simply go back about our business, content to leave Easter where we had found it - inside the churches where we had worshipped?
Is not every Sunday supposed to be a reminder or Easter, thus a Sunday of Easter?
You have probably noted by now that the Bulletin says that this is the Second Sunday of Easter. It is not the Second Sunday after Easter as if to say that Easter is finished with and these are the Sundays that follow. This is a Sunday of Easter. This means that the Easter celebration is continuing.
To put the question plainly and simply Ė how have our lives been different because of last week weekend. Many who attended church last Sunday experienced a rush of Easter Joy because the church was full of singing and flowers. But when it was all over, they returned behind locked doors of disbelief, doubt, fear, guilt, faithlessness and lack of conviction. They celebrated Easter, but nothing has really changed.
What about us who are here almost every week, what has changed in our lives because of the events that took place last weekend? Did the resurrection of Jesus change our lives in any way or did the holiday on Monday and then back to work on Tuesday make us content to leave Easter where we had found it Ė in the church where we had worshipped? Jesus Christ rose from the dead to bring us peace, to make changes in our lives that are drastic and lasting.
We see that happening in the life of Thomas in the Gospel reading today. With the other disciples, we presume he had heard about the empty tomb and Mary Magdaleneís experience. He was even told how the other disciples had seen Jesus enter the locked room on the evening of Easter Day. Thomas remained unchanged. "Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe." The risen Lord appeared again a week later and invited him to put his fingers in the scars on Jesusí hands and to feel the wound in his side. Suddenly Thomas was changed from doubt to a firm faith. Finally, Easter had sunk in and Thomasí life was changed. In fact, all the disciples were affected by the Easter victory and came out from behind locked doors and began to preach the good news to all who would listen.
Easter changes peopleís lives.
We see the power of Easter when we witness an infant, so small and helpless, receive forgiveness, new life, eternal life through the water of baptism. The risen Lord and Saviour welcomes that child into his family Ė his kingdom.
We see the power of Easter as we repent of our wicked ways, and the new life and faith that we were given at our baptism shines through as we seek to show love and care in everything we say and do.
We see the power of Easter when two people, who have not spoken
to each other in a long time, are reconciled. Easter peace replaces all bad
feeling and hostility.
We see the power of Easter at work when faith is no longer a take it or leave it matter. Our religion isnít just something for Sundays or Christmas and Easter. We are changed. Like Thomas, we are led to a commitment, and a trust in Jesus that affects us everyday in everything we say and do.
We see the power of Easter in the person battling the horrible
ravages of cancer, and receiving peace of mind, knowing that the risen Jesus
provides the strength and the help they need in this time before they enter
eternity free of pain.
We see the power of Easter at work as death draws near. Fear is banished and replaced with the assurance that when we close our eyes for the last time we will be taken to heaven. Easter gives the peace comes from knowing death is not the end, but the beginning of something far better than we could ever imagine.
We see the power of Easter as we eat and drink Jesusí body and blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It is not the dead Jesus that we take into our bodies but the risen Lord. Fear of Godís anger and punishment are replaced with Easter peace - our guilty consciences are made clean; our sin disappears; we are forgiven.
Easter isn't just one day on the church year calendar to be celebrated once a year. It is a way of life. Easter replaces fear with peace.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
22nd April, 2001